Effectively Leading and Empowering Student Workers to Promote Job Readiness and Quality Course Development

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

An interactive session exploring a leadership model that empowers student workers, fostering quality work, innovative culture, and job readiness.

Extended Abstract

With overworked faculty and heavy course loads for instructional designers, student workers can be the cost-effective key to alleviating the burden of any mundane and repetitive work in building an online course. How do you ensure that the student workers are producing quality work in a fast paced environment? How do you provide them opportunities for professional development in a position that consists of substantial copy-and-pasting and transcribing? In this session, we will explore the method Oregon State Ecampus unit used addressing these tensions in order to facilitate attendees' creation of connections within their own context. The ultimate goal of this session is to create a space for participants to understand how and why to use a similar method, while also showing its potential to build student work capacity, skills, and job readiness.

At Oregon State University Ecampus, we have employed a management model, originally intended for quality control in the production world, to transform the role of the student workers within our unit. As a result, we now have a gamified transcription tracker, a comprehensive course migration tracker that identifies courses still needing migration, and a low cost method for captioning videos, just to name a few innovations. We will share the model that proved to empower our student workers and foster this innovative, problem solving culture, report on the findings of a job readiness survey completed by the student workers, and provide attendees a chance to reflect on how they could apply the model in their own environment.

Faced with a daunting year-long migration to a new learning management system, which many institutions are now preparing for, Oregon State University's Ecampus hired a team of 18 student workers to migrate, partially cleanup, and organize each of our 900+ courses within Canvas, to ensure happy, well-supported faculty. Our unit's goal, through the migration, was to support our faculty so they could focus on design excellence, not be stuck in the mire of tedious course cleanup. With demand reaching as high as 93 course migrations requested in a week, our challenge was, how do we ensure the quality of student work within courses, while keeping up with high demand, without exhausting the students? Further, how do we give students professional development opportunities and job satisfaction when they have such a specific task list? Our solution was to create custom online training, develop a shared vision, and make space for the students to propose innovative ideas.

Our unit applied many concepts from the "Father of Quality", W. Edward Deming's, Fourteen Points for the Transformation of Management to great success on every level. The Points focus on empowerment of the workforce, directing leadership towards supporting the workforce, and creating a collaborative space without silos. While a few points are very production specific, most can be widely applied to any industry, especially higher education, at any size or level unit. Using Deming's model, not only were the students consistently maintaining excellence in their course migration work, the students also devised many innovative solutions to the complex issues we faced.

As part of this process, students from a variety of disciplines also acquired job readiness and valuable transferable skills. We will report on the findings of a survey conducted to assess student perceptions of these skills. However, even before seeing the survey results, it is clear, our student workers were able to thrive and learn many new skills in an environment where the processes and needs changed daily. The result was a highly engaged student team because they were gaining valuable and transferrable experiences while feeling respected. The student workers have, as a whole, consistently shown initiative, the ability and desire to think critically and outside of the box, and reliability. The students continue to prove they are invested in the success of our whole unit and take pride in their work, as a result of the leadership model we used.

The first half of the session will introduce Deming's management model as applied to the Ecampus context, and our approach for developing the student workers. Specifically, we will discuss tactics used to create this empowering environment, including the online training, consistent on-boarding, regular professional development, and frequent encouragement of creative ideas. Finally, we will report on the incredible results of this model, including gamified transcription, the creation of a comprehensive tracking system, and identifying specific area of responsibility to develop job readiness skills for students as they prepare to go out in the workforce.

For the second half, participants will break into small groups of 3-4 to conduct a more in-depth analysis of how key points of Deming's model apply to their own context. The groups will be asked to consider ways in which the points could be applied for their own student workers, teams, institutions, or leadership strategy. They will also be asked to reflect on how the points resonate within their own experiences and asked to record and share which point they found the most influential and what strategies they might take home. Questions and dialog will be welcome throughout.

Deming, W., & Books24x7, Inc. (2000). Out of the crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.